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National Govt & Politics
Mueller: Trump obstruction failed because aides refused orders to undermine Russia probe
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Mueller: Trump obstruction failed because aides refused orders to undermine Russia probe

Mueller: Trump obstruction failed because aides refused orders to undermine Russia probe

Mueller: Trump obstruction failed because aides refused orders to undermine Russia probe

In a redacted 448 page report delivered to Congress Thursday by Attorney General William Barr, Special Counsel Robert Mueller detailed a series of actions by President Donald Trump to rein in the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 elections, clearly stating that while Mr. Trump tried to undermine the Russia investigation, his efforts were stymied mainly because top aides and other government officials ignored his demands for action.

Prime among them was White House Counsel Don McGahn, who told investigators that the President ordered him to fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller in June of 2017, soon after press reports emerged that the President was under investigation for possible obstruction of justice.

"McGahn did not carry out the direction, however, deciding that he would resign rather than trigger what he regarded as a potential Saturday Night Massacre," referring to the  episode in the Watergate investigation where President Richard Nixon fired special prosecutor Archibald Cox.

Later, when press reports emerged stating that the President has ordered McGahn to fire Mueller, the report says the President then 'directed White House officials to tell McGahn to dispute the story and create a record stating he had not been ordered to have the Special Counsel removed.'

McGahn again refused to follow the President's order - defying him in an Oval Office meeting.

"McGahn refused to back away from what he remembered happening and perceived the President to be testing his mettle," the report concluded.

There were other stories of top aides similarly ignoring the President, such as Corey Lewandowski, who was told by Mr. Trump to get Attorney General Jeff Sessions to publicly state that the Russia investigation was 'very unfair' to Mr. Trump.

First in June of 2017, then again a month later, Mr. Trump used a private meeting to press Lewandowski - an outside adviser - to get Sessions 'to limit the Special Counsel investigation to future election interference.'

But like the White House Counsel, Lewandowski balked, and refused to follow the President's request, going so far as to ask a senior White House official - Rich Dearborn - to do the dirty work for him.

"Dearborn was uncomfortable with the task and did not follow through," the report stated.

The report also details how the President tried to lobby senior leaders of the U.S. Intelligence Community to help him limit the Russia probe, as Mr. Trump complained to Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, his daily intelligence briefers, and top officials at the National Security Agency.

In late March of 2017, the President complained directly to DNI Coats, who counseled that it would be best to allow the investigations to 'run their course,' and not interfere with the work of FBI Director James Comey.

While Coats did not tell investigators that he felt directly pressured to act, his top aides told a different story, that "Coats was upset because the President has asked him to contact Comey to convince him there was nothing to the Russia investigation."

Mr. Trump also called the head of the National Security Agency, Admiral Mike Rogers, to weigh in on the Russia investigation - a conversation that so alarmed Rogers and a top deputy that they immediately drafted a memo, and placed it in an NSA safe to memorialize the communications with the President, much as Comey had done after his own meetings with Mr. Trump.

Intelligence officials also said the President complained about the Russia investigation during his daily briefings, and asking for messages of support in the news media.

"On at least two occasions, the President began Presidential Daily Briefings by stating that there was no collusion with Russia and he hoped a press statement to that effect could be issued," the report said.

NSA chief Rogers recalled a private talk with Mr. Trump where the President vented his frustration, "and said something like the 'Russia thing has got to go away.'"

In another example from July of 2017, President Trump was ready to fire Attorney General Jeff Sessions, but encountered resistance from White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus.

"Even though Priebus did not intend to carry out the President's directive, he told the President he would get Sessions to resign," the report stated.

Priebus later told the President that Sessions could not be ousted, because other top officials - including Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, and Associate Attorney General Rachel Brand would also resign - setting off a Saturday Night Massacre type of situation for President Trump.

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Mueller: Trump obstruction failed because aides refused orders to undermine Russia probe

In the end, the Mueller investigation found that top aides to the President had saved Mr. Trump from possible legal jeopardy, mainly by ignoring his demands on the Russia investigation.

"The President's efforts to influence the investigation were mostly unsuccessful, but that is largely because the persons who surrounded the President declined to carry out orders or accede to his requests," the Mueller report concluded.

Top Democrats in Congress immediately made clear they want more information about the obstruction matters.

"As we continue to review the report, one thing is clear: Attorney General Barr presented a conclusion that the president did not obstruct justice while Mueller's report appears to undercut that finding," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer.

Not surprisingly, the White House saw things differently, as the redacted version of the Mueller report was issued.

On the issue of collusion, the Mueller report stated the investigation 'identified numerous links between the Russian government and the Trump campaign' - but that there was no evidence that the campaign had 'conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.'

Mueller seems likely to be asked directly about his investigation in May, as House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY) said he would ask Mueller to testify next month.

Attorney General Barr is already scheduled for two days of testimony before the House and Senate on May 1 and May 2.

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The Latest News Headlines

  • An Alabama bank manager who convinced an elderly customer to trust him with her money -- and then stole almost $315,000 from her -- was sentenced Friday to serve just over three years in federal prison. Montreal Holley, 28, of Montgomery, was handed a 37-month sentence for theft, embezzlement or misapplication of funds by a bank employee, court records show. Holley, who faced up to 30 years in prison prior to his November plea, will be on supervised probation for three years upon his release. Holley was also ordered to undergo mental health counseling while in prison and to pay more than $125,000 in restitution to Regions Bank, where he worked. According to court documents, the judge recommended he serve his sentence at the Maxwell Federal Prison Camp in Montgomery. “This case is upsetting in many ways, and it serves as a reminder that criminals are targeting some of the most vulnerable people in our society,” Louis Franklin, the U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Alabama, said in a statement, according to WSFA in Montgomery. “Holley selected his victim because of her advanced age and illness.” The woman died shortly after the investigation into Holley’s actions was launched in 2018. Franklin said the investigation began not long after he became a branch manager for Regions in May 2018. According to Franklin’s statement, Holley had convinced the elderly customer that she could trust only him to handle her money. Within months, he had drained nearly $315,000 from her accounts, WSFA reported. Holley used cashier’s checks and wire transfers to empty the woman’s accounts and issued a debit card for one account, using it to make cash withdrawals from an ATM. According to statements made during his sentencing, Holley used the stolen funds to pay off loans in his name, as well as in the names of his wife, girlfriend and other family members. Court documents show that in one instance, in December 2018, he used a cashier’s check to withdraw $23,266 from the woman’s bank account. He used the money to pay off a car loan, the documents say. WSFA reported that the loan was for a car his girlfriend drove. “He thought he would get away with stealing her money because no one would notice,” Franklin said, according to the news station. “Fortunately, Regions Bank discovered the suspicious activity in her account.” Officials said Holley returned $188,000 of the stolen money after he was caught. The restitution he is ordered to pay is the remaining portion of what was stolen, according to federal court records. Court documents show that Holley’s cooperation with the investigation played a role in the length of his sentence. He decided early on to plead guilty and waived indictment. Two Jeeps were seized by the U.S. Secret Service during the investigation, the records show. “The government agrees to seek restoration of any proceeds from the sale of those vehicles and to apply any such funds toward any restitution order imposed on the defendant,” Holley’s plea agreement states. Patrick Davis, special Agent in charge with the Secret Service, said in a statement that bank investigators should be commended. “Their quick response and thorough investigative support stopped this defendant from further financially exploiting the elderly victim in this case,” Davis said, according to the news station.
  • The Jacksonville Beach Police Department is asking for the public's help finding a newer model silver or gray Dodge Charger involved in a hit-and-run early Tuesday morning.  According to police, the vehicle was involved in what witnesses say was an 'intentional' hit and run of a pedestrian on a bicycle. Police say the victim was OK after sustaining non-life threatening injuries.  Police say the vehicle should have damage to its front and passenger side.  If you have any information on the vehicle or driver, you're urged to call Detective Thompson at (904) 270-1675.
  • A 19-year-old Arkansas man is accused of attempting to blow up a vehicle at the Pentagon on Monday, the U.S. Department of Justice said in a news release. According to court documents from the Eastern District of Virginia, Matthew Dmitri Richardson, of Fayetteville, was expected to make an appearance in federal court Tuesday afternoon, the release said. If convicted, officials said, Richardson faces a mandatory minimum of five years in prison and a maximum penalty of 20 years, WUSA reported. According to court documents, Pentagon police said Richardson tried to blow up an active-duty service member’s Land Rover at about 10:55 a.m. Monday, the television station reported. The officer said a Pentagon police officer saw Richardson in the north parking lot, striking a cigarette lighter to a piece of fabric that was inserted into the Land Rover’s gas tank, the news release said. According to the release, Richardson told the officer he was going to “blow this vehicle up” and “himself.' When the officer attempted to detain him, Richardson ran across the parking lot and onto a highway, where surveillance cameras subsequently revealed the man jumping over a fence into Arlington National Cemetery. Richardson was later found by authorities near Arlington House, according to the news release. According to court documents, officers searched Richardson and allegedly found a cigarette lighter, gloves, and court documents from his arrest around Saturday for two counts of felony assault on a law enforcement officer in Arlington County.
  • An 11-year-old Idaho girl who accompanied her grandfather to a legislative hearing on gun laws Monday did so armed with a loaded AR-15 assault rifle. Bailey Nielsen carried the weapon slung over her shoulder. According to The Associated Press, she remained silent as her grandfather, Charles Nielsen, addressed the legislative committee before him. “Bailey is carrying a loaded AR-15,” Nielsen said, according to the AP. “People live in fear, terrified of that which they do not understand. She’s been shooting since she was 5 years old. She got her first deer with this weapon at 9. She carries it responsibly. She knows how not to put her finger on the trigger. We live in fear in a society that is fed fear on a daily basis.” The AP reported that lawmakers had no reaction to the loaded weapon and asked Nielsen no questions when he was done speaking. The hearing the Nielsens attended dealt with a proposed law that would allow out-of-state visitors who have legal concealed handguns to carry them within city limits in Idaho. A law that was implemented last summer allows Idaho residents 18 and older to carry a concealed handgun within city limits without a permit or training. The proposed legislation would extend that right to all legal U.S. residents and U.S. military members. “When they come to Idaho, they should be able to carry concealed, because they carry responsibly,” Nielsen told the panel, according to the AP. “They’re law-abiding citizens. It’s the criminal we have to worry about.” Republican state Rep. Christy Zito, who proposed the bill, argued that the law would make clear the state gun laws and allow people to better defend themselves if necessary. She cited having to pull a weapon of her own when two men approached her vehicle with her daughter sitting inside. “I stand here before you today as a mother and grandmother who has had to use a firearm to defend their child,” Zito said, the AP reported. “Even though I didn't have to pull the trigger, just the fact that they could see it, and they knew that I had it, was the determining factor.” Bailey Nielsen’s appearance before the committee, which was captured in a photograph showing the AR-15 slung over her shoulder, caused outrage among gun safety advocates. The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence spoke out on social media. “This is the kind of extremism we are up against. The AR-15 was loaded,” the Facebook post read. Followers of the organization chimed in. One woman pointed out that an AR-15 is not a hunting weapon. “(I) grew up in a family of hunters in northern Minnesota,” the woman wrote. “No self-respecting hunter uses this. These weapons were created for the destruction of people, nature and property. In other words, war.” “If this is legal, God help Idaho,” a man wrote. “I’ll never go there.” Another commenter wrote that a federal age limit needs to be set for carrying a weapon. Not all who saw the image were against the girl being allowed to carry the rifle. “I’d rather have her around if something ever happened than any of you professional victims,” one man wrote. On Twitter, one man responded to a news story about the Nielsens by saying guns in public used to be the norm. “Years ago, there were far more guns and far less shootings,” the man tweeted. “Guns are not the problem. Progressive indoctrination is the problem.” Others on social media wondered how the girl was able to get a loaded assault rifle into the building. One woman wrote that she was not allowed to attend a city council meeting without turning over her pocket knife as she passed through a metal detector. Multiple people wrote about how they weren’t allowed to take cellphones into court. The AP reported that it is not unusual to see weapons in the Idaho Statehouse, where some lawmakers carry concealed weapons of their own. Handguns and the occasional long gun also make appearances when gun legislation is on the table. The bill being debated Monday was ultimately sent on to the House for review, the news agency said.
  • An Alabama man is charged with murder and other related charges after he allegedly opened fire on his ex-wife and her new boyfriend Monday evening following a Mardi Gras parade, killing the man and critically wounding his former wife. Anthony Orr, 49, also faces charges of attempted murder and discharging a firearm into an occupied vehicle, according to Mobile County Jail records. >> Related story: Man fatally struck by Mardi Gras float Mobile Police Chief Lawrence Battiste said officers were called around 6 p.m. to the scene downtown, where they found the man dead and the woman injured. The city is currently celebrating Mardi Gras, which originated in Mobile, and was in the middle of the biggest party the community sees each year. The gunfire erupted less than an hour before the Infant Mystics parade was set to roll, AL.com reported. The victims were shot a couple of blocks from where the day’s previous parade had ended. “We are currently looking for a black male by the name of Anthony Orr, who is the suspect in this shooting,” Battiste told reporters at the crime scene Monday night, according to video from Fox 10 in Mobile. “We believe that this shooting is domestic-related. He chose to deal with the domestic situation here at Mardi Gras.” Orr had threatened his ex-wife, who was riding on a float, from the parade route as the festivities were underway, Battiste said. The chief asked anyone in the public who knew Orr or spotted him to call police. “Don’t harbor him. Please notify us,” Battiste said. Orr was taken into custody around 10 p.m., Fox 10 reported. Court records obtained by the news station show Orr was arrested Feb 18, just six days before the shooting, on domestic violence charges. The documents indicate the victim, Orr’s ex-wife, told police he had beat her, kicking her in the face, in October 2018. Orr was released on bail three days before the double shooting, AL.com reported. “This is a prime example of, potentially, where somebody may not should have had access to bail because of the offense he committed,” Battiste said. “Once a person has identified themselves as a shooter, it’s kind of hard to get them to stop.” Anthony Orr is escorted to jail by police officers in the video below, courtesy of WKRG in Mobile.  Alabama legislators are seeking to pass a constitutional amendment denying bail to suspects accused of violent Class A felonies. The bill, which the Montgomery Advertiser reported was approved last week by the state House Judiciary Committee, is named after Aniah Blanchard, a 19-year-old college student who was abducted from an Auburn convenience store and killed in October. At the time of Blanchard’s abduction, the man accused of the crime, Ibraheem Yazeed, was free on $295,000 bond, the Advertiser reported. Yazeed, 29, had been charged with attempted murder, kidnapping, robbery and drug charges in a January 2019 attack on two men at a Montgomery hotel. He now faces the death penalty in Blanchard’s abduction and shooting death. “We really believe the constitutional amendment will speak to this type of issues that we’re dealing with tonight,” Battiste said. “We shouldn’t be dealing with something like this if this guy had a history that indicated he should have been denied bail.” Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson said Monday night that there were people who knew prior to the shooting that Orr had threatened his ex-wife and her new boyfriend. “There was enough information to be conveyed that this was an actual, valid threat. He was intending to carry out this threat,” Stimpson said. Battiste and James Barber, the city’s public safety director, told Fox 10 that Orr had threatened the victims Sunday night and Monday afternoon. He also actively tried to gain access to weapons throughout the day Monday, Barber said. “There are other people that knew there was a threat to kill the deceased, so it would have been very helpful if somebody had reached out to us. And maybe somebody had, but we haven’t been able to confirm that,” Stimpson said. “If you know that somebody has been threatened with their life and you know there’s a history of violence, you’ve got to tell us if you expect us to do something about it.” Police officials and the mayor tried to assuage paradegoers’ fear as the city prepared for Fat Tuesday, the final and biggest day of Mardi Gras season. “If anything, because of this situation, there is a heightened awareness on our part that we can’t let our guard down coming into the last day of Mardi Gras,” Stimpson said. “That’s when things can happen that you don’t expect to happen. But we have got everything that we have out there trying to make sure that everybody is safe.” >> Related story: Woman run over by Mardi Gras float dies The mayor urged the public to pray for the victims and their families. “How does your heart not break for those who have been shot?” he said. Court records obtained by AL.com show Orr’s divorce was finalized in September. In the woman’s March 2019 filing, she alleged he had been verbally, emotionally and physically abusive. The woman had obtained a protection from abuse order the year before, the news site reported. Orr pleaded guilty in August 2019 to resisting arrest, a charge that stemmed from a March incident in which his ex-wife called the Mobile County Sheriff’s Office to report he was breaking into her home. Deputies found him near the home, and when he refused to follow their commands, they stunned him with a Taser. “As we were helping Anthony Orr to his feet he made the statement he always wondered what a taser felt like and wondered if it really worked,” a deputy wrote in an arrest report, according to AL.com. “(Orr) stated that he is a believer now.”

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